Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What is ‘local’ news on a warming planet?

 

A long and in-depth story appeared this week in our local media on how Climate Change will affect the Rochester, NY region. It’s part of a series that will be forthcoming. I make note of it because it’s really the first of its kind, an article in the local media about the consequences of Climate Change on a local level without the usual pandering to the deniers.

ENVIRONMENT: Climate change: upsetting the balance - News Articles - Rochester City Newspaper This is the first of an occasional series on climate change. It focuses on the effects that changing temperature and precipitation trends will have on ecosystems. Nature is about balance and climate change is already knocking finely tuned systems out of whack. Future installments will look at the effects on agriculture, the economy, and energy. (April 17, 2012) Rochester NY News, Events, Restaurants, Music, Entertainment, Nightlife - Rochester City Newspaper

Since the 1970’s Climate Change has been noticeable to most of the scientists who were testing the hypothesis that if humanity puts thousands of tons of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, it will trap heat and begin warming our climate. That hypothesis is now accepted by the majority of scientists in the US and around the world. Indeed, ice-core samples show a demonstrative spike in the concentration of carbon dioxides between the beginning of the Second Industrial Revolution (about 280ppm) to now (about 396ppm), and there is a loss of energy beyond our stratosphere because more energy from the sun is getting trapped in our atmosphere. It is and has been beyond a reasonable doubt for some time.

Around 1970 the effect of Climate Change became noticeable because the cooling effect from spewing aerosols or particulates into our air from burning fossil fuels got overwhelmed by the heat. Our atmosphere was clearly warming up. But for decades, despite announcements to Congress, peer-reviewed studies from scientists and the establishment of the IPCC - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in the 1980’s so much doubt was allowed to fester in the media that any talk of Climate Change was continually qualified by doubt.

This brings us to the problem with our watchdogs, our media. Back in the day, back around the pre-Internet era, we used to believe in the relatively few professional voices we all accepted as qualified and objective. But those days are gone. Perhaps, for our all nostalgia, they were not all that objective and qualified. For example the dangers of cigarette smoking were known long before the media gave the public that information. Acid rain was poisoning our Adirondack lakes before the media climbed on board, and many things we thought only alarmist are now our legacy, like the tragic trail of destroyed lives because lead poisoning was not adequately covered by the media.

However, today many despair that we live in a world so filled with ‘news’ pouring over the Internet, radio, TV, cable, and satellites that it’s too bewildering to keep up. It oftentimes seems that way. For the present sound and fury by the media for your attention is a media circus that has left many traditional news sources without funding from advertizing dollars that have moved to the Internet.

We are in a media revolution that is so fluid right now that it’s difficult to actually pin down what is going on and where it will settle. Local newspapers are darting behind pay walls that had been left open for the last decade for anyone with an Internet connection. Investigative reporting on critical issues like the present series on Lead Poisoning by USA today (Some neighborhoods dangerously contaminated by lead fallout – USATODAY.com ) are too few and too far between. Mostly, what one receives as news in today’s media world is a regurgitation of a few good stories by aggregators, and bloggers who may or may not know what they are talking about, and far too many very successful media pumping out their agenda disguised as news. Read all about it in this pivotal work by McChesney and Nichols: The Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution that Will Begin the World Again.

So how are we to navigate in this crazy new world of news, with Super PACs (political groups with zillions of bucks that are keeping alive a starving media with adulterated crap cloaked as fit for human consumption) and limitless gossip spread thin around the world because of the lack of a way to pay for professional reporters. Trust me, we have reason to suspect the present mainstream media:

Meet the Media Companies Lobbying Against Transparency News organizations cultivate a reputation for demanding transparency, whether by suing for access to government documents, dispatching camera crews to the doorsteps of recalcitrant politicians, or editorializing in favor of open government. But now many of the country’s biggest media companies, which own dozens of newspapers and TV news operations, are flexing their muscle in Washington in a fight against a government initiative to increase transparency of political spending. (April 20, 2012) ProPublica

One thing is for sure. We are not going to return the ‘good ole’ days. And there are going to be disruptions. But there is also hope that the new news might offer us in the aggregate a more realistic appraisal of what is going around us so we can respond appropriately. It might be like the collapse of the encyclopedia and the rise of Wikipedia: The collapse of an unrealistic idea of news, where someone in charge tells us what to think, to one where we have to get engaged with all that is going on around us, gain our own sense of priories, and determine for ourselves who is fit to inform us.

It is not hopeless. There are guidelines we can use to filter out the noise of endless agencies clamoring for our attention—and our hard-earned bucks. Here are some questions and suggestions as our media revolution rages on:

  • Do our local media report on news we need to know? Are they informing us on matters that involve our environmental health and our public health? Or, are they merely pandering to our love of pets, our love of corporate and local sports, and our endless fascination for the local shenanigans found in police blotters?
  • Is our local media capable of investigative reporting? Or, are they merely parroting and aggregating news acquired from other media, or official reports from the Governor’s website, the New York State Environmental Department of Conservation, or the New York State Department of Health?
  • Do we need continual ‘breaking news’, or would it be more worthwhile for our local media to connect the dots between what’s going on and what we need to know.
  • What is media objectivity on a planet that is warming? Does it make sense to report on the viability of our water infrastructure, the health of our rivers and streams, or even the weather, without viewing them from the lens of Climate Change? Are local media merely balancing our basic rights for clean air and clean water with the interests of the Fracking industry?
  • Instead of relying on a single media source, new media models could transform into mega media services where you can subscribe to one aggregator for a low rate and get a multitude of media of your choice around the world. This desperate attempt by many local media to charge for their online content is not going to work; there are too many other free choices that are as informative as the ones you pay for.
  • Suggestion: Kill your TV. Corporate media, especially the ones milking the Super PAC’s that are only interesting in pushing corporate agenda, are not helping the planet at all. Free market fundamentalism is not going to solve our media crisis. We actually need to know something valid to operate within the laws of physics on this planet. We should encourage public media that doesn’t pander to corporate interests over our own.

Proof of the present media failure is its inability to question our elected officials, especially the two running for our country’s highest office, about their plans to address Climate Change. Politics have rendered our media impotent and incapable of informing the public on the most important issue of this century.

If you still feel overwhelmed by the media revolution, remember this: In this present world, where the needs of seven billion people are pit against an economic hegemon where only a few are thriving while the rest wallow is despair, there will be, like a drug addict whose life is being destroyed by drugs, only one problem: his addiction. Sooner than you can imagine, everything in the future--military conflicts, economics, justice, fairness, corporate health, and your own future -- will be viewed through only one lens: Climate Change. If you are attending to a variety of media and none of them are keeping you up on the state of our planet as it warms, you will be blind.

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